Ken “Popehat” White (previously) is a former US federal prosecutor whose explanations of the minutae of law have been invaluable to my understanding of the legal controversies swirling around Trump and his retinue.
White’s latest piece, delving into this week’s FBI raid on Michael Cohen, the Trump lawyer who tried to secure the silence of adult actress Stormy Daniels regarding her sexual affair with Donald Trump.
The key takeaway from White’s explainer is that this is a Big Deal; moreover, it’s a Big Deal in precisely the way that many of the other news-blips about the president’s legal woes were not. This isn’t just something that sounds scary to laypeople but bores legal experts. This is yuuuuuge.
3. A magistrate judge signed off on this. Federal magistrate judges (appointed by local district judges, not by the president) review search warrant applications. A magistrate judge therefore reviewed this application and found probable cause—that is, probable cause to believe that the subject premises (Cohen’s office) contains specified evidence of a specified federal crime. Now, magistrate judges sometimes are a little too rubber-stampy for my taste (notably, recall the time that a magistrate judge signed off on a truly ludicrous gag order forbidding Reason from revealing that it had been served with a subpoena for information identifying commenters). But here, where the magistrate judge knew that this would become one of the most scrutinized search warrant applications ever, and because the nature of the warrant of an attorney’s office is unusual, you can expect that the magistrate judge felt pretty confident that there was enough there.
4. The search warrant application (the lengthy narrative from the FBI agent setting for the evidence) is almost certainly still under seal, and even Michael Cohen doesn’t get to see it (yet). But the FBI would have left the warrant itself—and that shows (1) the federal criminal statutes they were investigating, and (2) the list of items they wanted to seize. Much can be learned for those. Assuming Michael Cohen doesn’t release it, watch for it to be leaked.
Again: This is a big deal.
It’s early times. Watch for the search warrant itself—that will show us what crimes they are investigating and what documents they think are probative of that crime. Watch also for what Michael Cohen’s lawyers do in the struggle to compel arbitration with Stormy Daniels in a federal court in Los Angeles—the search warrant dramatically complicates whether Cohen can, or should, submit to any questions in that case. Be skeptical of the surge of misinformation and inaccurate legal takes that are certain to drop. But watch. This is historic.
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